CatSG

Geoffroy's cat

Leopardus geoffroyi

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 3-6 kg
Body length: 43-88 cm
Tail length: 23-40 cm
Longevity: up to 14 years
Litter size: 1-3 cubs

Description

The Geoffroy’s cat is included in the genus Leopardus. There are no genetic evidences of different subspecies so far recorded.

The Geoffroy’s cat is a relatively small cat about the size of a large house cat. Its coat colour and size varies. Individuals from the eastern part of its distribution (Brazil, Uruguay and East Argentina) seem to be the largest, while the ones from the Northwest (Bolivia and Northwest Argentina) appear to be smaller. The fur is grey to tawny with small regular spots which tend to form bands on the limbs and its belly is white. The two dark teardrop streaks on the cheeks and the small triangular dark under eye patches are particular markings of the Geoffroy’s cat. The crown and neck are marked with several dark longitudinal lines and the back of the ears are black with a central white spot. The Geoffroy’s cat’s tail is shorter than that of other small cat species and its head is a bit flattened. Melanistic forms seem to be fairly common and are more often recorded in forested or wetland areas. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Argentina

gato montés común, gato de monte

Brazil

gato-do-mato-pelo-curto, gato-do-mato-grande

Chile

gato montés argentino

French

chat de Geoffroy

German

Geoffroykatze, Kleinfleckkatze, Salzkatze

Uruguay

gato montés común, gato de monte


Status and Distribution

The Geoffroy's cat is classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List. It seems to be the most abundant felid of the temperate Neotropics. It is widespread and abundant over most of its range and its distribution range seems to be continuous. In parts of its range, the Geoffroy's cat seems to have profited by the conversion of sub-tropical forests into croplands. Nevertheless, in Chile, where it is restricted to a small area in the South it is considered to be rare. In Brazil in the state Rio Grande do Sul, the Geoffroy's cat is considered to be Vulnerable. Its density varies depending on the region.

Geoffroy's cat density estimates

Region/Country

Density/100 km²

Argentina

3-26 (during drought period) but up to 120 in favourable years

Argentina, Lihué Calel National Park

190-220 (incl. transient individuals)

Argentina, Espinal of the centre

45

Bolivia, Chaco

9-40

Brazil

10

Chile, Torres del Paine National Park

7-12

The Geoffroy’s cat occurs in the Andes of southern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Chile. It has been recorded up to an elevation of 3,800 m in the Bolivian Andes. 

Extant distribution area of the Geoffroy's cat (IUCN Red List of Threatend Species 2015).

Habitat

Geoffroy’s cat can occur in a high variety of habitats with preference for areas with dense vegetation. Most of its range is arid or semi-arid. It can be found in pampas grasslands, marsh grasslands, broad-leafed forest, savannas, dry shrublands, arid woodlands, Monte desert and semi-desert and arid steppe uplands in pristine and disturbed areas. The Geoffroy’s cat can even occur in highly-degraded human-developed areas. 

Camera trap picture of a Geoffroy's cat.
Radio-collared Geoffroy's cat.

Ecology and Behaviour

Newborn Geoffroy's cats.
Geoffroy's cats in a Zoo.

The Geoffroy’s cat is solitary, mostly nocturnal, and spends most of its time on the ground, although it can climb well. During the day it likes to rest in thickets or in hollow trees. The Geoffroy’s cat has been described as a good swimmer. A female in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile crossed a 30 m wide fast-flowing river at least 20 times. The Geoffroy’s cat shares its habitat with the pampas cat and other felids such as the puma. Hybridisation between the Geoffroy’s cat and the Southern tiger cat (Leopardus guttulus) takes place in a zone in southern Brazil where the ranges of both species meet.

Woodlands and wood patches seem to play an important role in the ecology of the species either as refuges, hunting areas or for territorial marking. Wood patches are important communication centres where information is exchanged among individuals in the form of fecal scent marks deposited in large latrines.

The Geoffroy’s cat is known to disperse over a distance of more than 100 km and has a home range size from 2.5-12 km². The home ranges of females overlap but not the ones of males and the males have larger home ranges than females.

Geoffroy's cat home range estimates

Country/Region

Home range size km2

Argentina, wet pampas grassland

2.3-6.5 (females), 3.9-12.4 (males)

Argentina, Lihue Calei National Park

2.5-3.4

Argentina, grassland

0.6-4.9

Chile, Torres del Paine National Park

7.3-10.4

Sexual maturity is reached at an age of 18 months for females and 24 months for males, but can also be as early as 9-12 months. The birth season is from December to May. The estrus lasts for 2-3 days, the estrus cycle for 12 days and the gestation for 72-78 days. 

Prey

Melanistic Geoffroy's cat with its prey.

The Geoffroy’s cat is an opportunistic predator and more of a generalist than the pampas cat. In South America it preys on introduced brown hares (Lepus europaeus) and small rodents but its diet varies by region. In Argentina the Geoffroy’s cat feeds mainly on small rodents and birds, in southern Chile mainly on rodents and hares and in Uruguay and Brazil also the remains of fish and frogs beside small mammals, reptiles and birds, have been encountered. Where vizcachas occur, they are also preyed on. 

Main Threats

Retaliation killing for poultry predation and habitat loss and fragmentation are considered to be the main threats. In many regions of South America livestock farming is widespread leading to habitat changes and may also negatively impact prey populations. Although the Geoffroy’s cat has a flexible diet and seems to tolerate moderate levels of deforestation, major habitat alterations are a threat.

The Geoffroy’s cat has been exploited heavily during the boom of the cat skin trade in the late 1960s to the 1980s. Its coat was the second most common cat fur on the international fur market. Since the 1988s international trade has declined and commercial hunting as it existed in the past seems to have essentially ceased. Although its furs may are seen in local illegal trades. Today, human-related mortalities come from retaliation for raids on poultry dens, seldom from poaching for meat, by domestic dogs or traffic accidents. In central Argentina these causes made up to 62% of the recorded mortality rate. Rarely, Geoffroy’s cats are also used for the pet market by hybridising them with domestic cats to get a new “safari cat”.  There seems also to be an exposure to domestic carnivore diseases (including canine distemper, feline calicivirus, and feline panleukopenia virus) which could be a potential risk. Geoffroy’s cats occasionally fall prey to pumas. Where the habitat of the two species overlap, the Geoffroy’s cat will move on to more open landscapes.

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

Since 1992 the Geoffroy’s cat is listed in Appendix I of CITES. It is fully protected across its range. Hunting and trade are prohibited in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Although the Geoffroy’s cat is considered to be relatively common, its status is not well known and it is difficult to judge the actual impact of threats. Further research is therefore needed to assess how tolerant and robust the Geoffroy’s cat really is to habitat changes. It is important to protect its habitat, improve anti-poaching activities, and raise awareness about the correct management of domestic cats and dogs.